Customer Service in the Fast Lane—the Zip and Sip Strategy

One day we will drive cars that zip at 300 miles an hour and sip at 300 miles per gallon. And our Customer Organization will close 1000 cases and talk to 1000 customers. Can one do both?

Like a lot of kids, I wanted to be an astronaut. I started studying Astronautical Engineering—at least, until I wrote my first software program—and realized that’s where the real rocket science is. Having switched to a computer science and engineering major (“6-3” in MIT-speak, ex. “I’ll meet you after 6.001 in 18.301 at 11:01″), and with a strong interest in flight, I’ve always been fascinated with systems that are immensely fast yet solidly powerful. So like many CS grads of my time, I traveled west to San Francisco to work in tech. A fast-growing public company gave me my first job, and it was 3 startups later—one went public, one failed, and one acquired for $395 million—that we started Dossier in 2014. And in all these companies—the process of managing customers felt like the Sisyphean task of building the 300 mph/300 mpg car. One company Volkswagen is building a hybrid car called the XL1 that zips at 100 mph and just sips gas.

The Opposing Forces in a Customer Organization.

Building the utopian 300 mph/300 mpg car illustrates why our Chief Customer Officers can’t operate their customer organization that is simultaneously efficient and strategic—the two are opposing forces in an organization. For efficiency, you need to speed up and look for improvements in operational processes. For strategy, you need to listen for patterns with customers, and that often requires slowing down rather than speeding up. Indeed, the facts on customer service look pretty dismal:

  • 89% of consumers have stopped doing business with a company after experiencing poor customer service [Rightnow].
  • 17% of consumers would recommend a brand that provides a slow but effective solution [Harvard Business Review].
  • 70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated [McKinsey].
  • …and so on. For more bad news, see 50 facts about customer experience.

But look closely at the facts and you will see that many of these statistics have been around for years. From the 1970s to the 1990s, the customer service industry was designing itself for efficiency—to channel incoming telephone calls to the correct representative.  In the 2000s, technology companies began creating software tools to help businesses handle customer service. Zendesk was the first software-as-a-service technology company in customer service to go public, and around them there are others, as this Gartner magic quadrant graphic shows.

Tech companies would have us believe that well-designed software can help you create a customers-first strategy. Buy Zendesk, Salesforce ServiceDesk, or Verint, and your organization will handle customer woes and also listen to customers strategically. Companies that use such software are driven to listen better to customers, but it’s really responding, not listening. Operational efficiency and customer intimacy are opposing forces.

Customers and Social Airwaves.

When the social revolution hit the business world, and Twitter came into being—customer service changed forever. Customers of any consumer or business brand were able to take to the airwaves and communicate their experience. I myself took to Facebook when receiving disastrous emergency roadside assistance from my auto insurance company.  My insurance company’s mascot may very well be an animal with a British accent (identities of company mascots have been changed to protect the guilty), but the operational efficiency of the customer service rep was not amusing—I was in a broken down car in the night with my young daughters. My insurance company rep was insistent on process that would require us to wait for “anywhere up to 2 hours” and would not look for a towing company that was closer to us. So instead, I called a company whose customer listening skills are legendary—American Express. Their roadside assistance rep understood the situation and routed us to a towing company whose drivers were just a mile away, getting someone to us in 15 minutes. That’s the difference between a customer service organization designed for process (mistaking it for efficiency) and one designed for strategic success. As the American Express rep showed, you can be both efficient and strategic, and they’re designing the legendary 300/300 customer organization.

After I messaged the insurance company on their Facebook page, I got a quick call back from their social media team. However, Facebook and Twitter channels are staffed by marketing and PR reps. We know that the people who manage a company’s social media channel are not trained customer service reps. And customer service reps, on the other hand, are not trained in positioning and public social media. In today’s social world, though, you need to provide a customer support channel that has the power of Zendesk and the agility of Facebook or Twitter.

Customer Silos? It’s not WWII.

Having a customer service platform that allows each department to go deep and yet have the entire company be agile—is utopian (and, as our engineers at Dossier have demonstrated—finally possible). It requires a platform mindset to developing software products that open up communication throughout your company. Customer silos are so World War II—yet these deepen and are really hard to penetrate. Let’s say you, the CEO, start to check on company health on the weekend, and want to know how you are doing with your top 10 customers. You have access to email, Salesforce, Zendesk and Marketo. Retrieving financial data is easy, but to get the real customer picture you need to see across systems.

Even the CEO will take days to get the full picture on the top 10 customers, if at all. He/she will need to ask his/her head of sales, customer service, and product teams—by email, phone calls, and maybe a customer dashboard that shows revenue, number of active users, usage and so on. That slow and manual process is mind-blowing in its backwardness. But that’s what software designed for divisions and departments does—it creates information-rich silos that block the rest of the organization from understanding customers.

By and large, though, customer service is done by a highly-trained, process-oriented team called, variously, Support, Tech Support, Customer Service, App Support, Helpdesk Support, and so on. And the entire software industry, a $2 billion industry, has spawned companies like and Zendesk. These tools are designed mostly for specialized customer service teams. Watch a demo of these products and they will talk about “call deflection”, “queueing,” and “ticket escalations”. In other words, customer support is a science, has a waterfall process, and operationally-savvy people lead those departments.

Somewhere, in the goal to make customer service efficient, companies have lost the strategic ability to really listen to customers. I don’t mean those companies with 10,000+ employees—I mean, even 20 and 100-person companies have lost that ability to really listen. Between the customer and the employees are highly trained customer service people who follow a process—and when they are good, know when to be flexible and delight the customer. However, it’s time to break down the customer silos.

The Fear of Scaling Customer Feedback.

The reason for customer silos being created is—there is a fear in every organization about not being able to handle the scale of customer feedback. Handling scale requires depersonalization—ex. follow-the-sun customer service models that bring staff from different geographies to handle service inquiries. That leads to automation of responses, knowledge bases, driven by effective Chief Customer Officers with a relentless focus on efficiency and quality. Add to this the inherent depersonalization evident in the design of customer support software, and you get an organization that is driven by reacting to customers, or, at best, proactively heading off customer calls by creating self-help knowledge bases, communities, and so on.

By making interacting with customers the domain of Customer Service, the functions that need to listen more to grow the company’s revenues and customer intimacy—the Executive Team, Sales, Product or Program Managers, Marketing, and IT centers or Engineering no longer have the ability to listen to customer feedback at volume and see patterns. The “silo” divisional thinking takes over, there is no visibility into customer issues, and the teams that need to listen every day to customers don’t have the ability to do that.

Customer Listening Posts

What we have seen our top customers—from startups to Fortune 500 companies—do is to create highly efficient customer listening posts. These listening posts are seamlessly integrated with people in customer service organizations, who use Zendesk or Yet, these listening posts are designed for ease of use and for everyday people—your employees and your customers—to use.  As natural as having a conversation, the CEO can now search all conversations from prospects on your web site, customers in your apps, and all customer issues discussed by employees at your workplace. Type in “unhappy” and you will find all customers who have said that they are unhappy. Conversely, a “love it” will reveal all your champions, by user, account or geography.

That is why we created Dossier, a Collaboration App for Teams—to make it possible for the Chief Customer Officer to help the entire company listen to customers, while at the same time handle the scale of customer service issues efficiently. Fundamental to this new wave of customer collaboration software is delivering a Facebook and Twitter-like experience for customers and all teams that want to listen to them, yet being able to instantly sync with and search all customer issues in support platforms like Zendesk, Salesforce Service Desk or, and all projects in project management tools like Asana, Trello, and Clarizen.

One of the ways we are encouraging companies to get every employee to tap into customer feedback is to remove the biggest impediment to getting the entire company to listen to customers—per-user pricing for customer support software. All customer support software—from Oracle, Salesforce, to Zendesk—is based on per-user pricing. This means that, the more employees that you want to have listen to customers, the more your company pays these services. While this makes tremendous economic sense for the customer support vendor, we feel that a pricing structure that encourages all employees to just drop in to listen to customers is called for. So, for example, while your customer service organization uses Zendesk, the rest of your organization—like Sales, Marketing, Product and Customer Success—use Dossier without any user restrictions. And the two platforms—Dossier and Zendesk, Salesforce, Asana, etc.—are connected and seamlessly integrated, giving the rest of the company visibility into customer questions, feedback, and praise.

This is why today, we’d like to invite you to start collaborating with customers for FREE—today, many companies—from 10-person startups, 500-person private companies to 44,800-person companies like CenturyLink use Dossier in all its glory with unlimited customers, unlimited web site visitors, unlimited application users, and even unlimited employees. The first 5,000 messages in your company are free, and then after that, paid plans for the entire company start with a fee of $100/mo.

We’re doing this because we want to bring back the art of listening to the customer, backed by our data science that makes it possible for all companies to both be efficient and strategic—by not just managing customer issues, but also listening and talking to them. And this means that every employee in your company should be hearing customer feedback, asking questions internally, learning from that feedback, and jumping in solve problems or apply that knowledge in ways that you didn’t imagine was possible. Your people are what make your company, and we want to help you turn your company into a customer-intimate culture, not just an operationally-efficient one.

In other words—take a complete approach to customer engagement, not that of the auto insurance company whose customer service rep wanted me and my daughters wait for 2 hours for a tow. Be like American Express, or like Volkswagen, driven to build the impossible and delight the customer. Bring back customer listening—make every employee listen to, learn from, and help a customer. You can have both a “Zip and Sip” strategy!

Do you have a story on how your organization works amazingly with customers? Please share it with everyone.

About Vik Chaudhary

Dossier is an app for organizing customer conversations, no matter where it happens, with zero disruption to the ways you already communicate. Based in San Francisco, Dossier is helping business owners, business professionals and teams around the globe intelligently sync their customer communication channels and organize documents, tasks and more. Welcome to a new way to build better customer relationships and a better business. Sign up for a free account today at

It’s an App, App, App, App World

In the 1963 movie classic It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, a story sparks a madcap cross-country rush to find some treasure. In today’s business world, where all employees, customers, and partners use a variety of software applications, sales teams could very well go on a dizzying ride to find the right tools to sell, support and market to their SaaS application users. Or, you can read this article.
If I asked a SaaS salesperson whether an application were different from an organization, you’d look quizzically at me. “Apples and oranges,” you would say, “they aren’t the same things at all!”. That’s right, say applications and you think of Salesforce, Oracle, Netsuite, SAP, New Relic, SAP or one of the 1,000 SaaS players in the marketing technology Lumascape. And organizations are entities, such as a business, institution or an group, that has a collective goal and is usually linked to an external environment. So if these are so vastly different, then why do SaaS sales teams use the same tools when selling to people who use applications as they do when selling to people who belong to an organization?

Phone, Email and LinkedIn are Sales Tools for Organizations

If you are selling aircraft parts to a manufacturer, it makes sense to use tools that most effectively allow you to reach your target market. You’re dealing with an organization that has a structure – divisions, titles, and gatekeepers. By all means, using the phone to effectively walk the phone tree, discover the the way to the right people, and leave messages. Guess their email addresses and send them emails, or subscribe to LinkedIn and use an InMail. And if they don’t call you back right away, reach out appropriately, get in touch with an influencer, and leverage your way to a meeting. This approach to sales has great adherents, and are appropriate when working with organizations. Inc. Magazine’s 10 Greatest Salespeople of All Time lists methodical and persevering sales leaders, including Larry Ellison, at whose arms length I learnt how Oracle marketed and sold its products during its growth years when it went from a 1,000-size to a 50,000-strong company. My favorite story there is about Joe Girard, the car salesperson, who felt that “Sales operated according to a law of averages all its own. The more doorbells he rang, the more money he made.” A fascinating read is Harvard Business School’s John H. Patterson and the Sales Strategy of the National Cash Register Company, 1884 to 1922., where the salesperson has a 4-stage process: the Approach, the Proposition, the Demonstration, the Close.

But when your buyers are evaluating or using applications, many of the rules have changed. And the phone, email and LinkedIn are not as relevant as other tools. Here are the new rules of sales in the world of applications:

#1. The Test Drive is Always Happening

When you sell a car, as a salesperson you control the test drive. You offer it when you feel that the prospect is ready for the demonstration. However, when you sell a SaaS application, then more likely than not your company offers a free trial. It’s as if the consumer had walked on to your lot, and Open Sesame! The doors of the cars were unlocked, and off he went, leaving behind a cloud of dust. All you know is that the prospect has anywhere from 14 to 30 days to drive the car as he pleases and then return the keys to the dealership. The evaluation is always happening, and there’s a well-defined system in place that your Marketing and Product departments have honed.

#2. The Drivers are Semi-Professional Racers

Many prospects who sign up for a trial are, if not already expert, extremely educated about their needs and your competition. If you are selling application performance monitoring software, then the chances are that the buyer is somewhat of an expert in translating performance metric to business outcomes, or in internal performance monitoring tools. You know that 7-step tour that your Marketing team spent months perfecting and gets emailed to every contact? Well, great for the newbies, but honestly, there’s no such thing.

#3. Evaluation is a Team Sport

Unless you are selling Turbo Tax or Tax Act Online to the individual taxpayer, most SaaS evaluations are managed by a team. If you’re selling a departmental application, e.g. marketing automation software, then there will be a Director of Demand Generation, a data science analyst, a product marketing manager, and a marketing technologist involved in the evaluation. The thing is, perhaps only one of them signed up for the trial. You can use organizational tools like the phone or email to discover who the other evaluators are, but by the time you do, you might actually have missed the first 3 critical days of the trial. Use social software as part of your trial that encourages users to invite other evaluators to the table. Here’s an example of a social invitation that you can use in a trial – clicking it should simply allow the user to send an invitation to others to come join him in the evaluation of the software (and, preferably, provide them with a login as well).


So What’s a Sales Gal (or Guy) To Do?

First, recognize that you’re living in a world of Application Users – and that it’s a different world from your physical Organization. Use sales tools that are more appropriate to the behavior of the application user, allowing for a selling experience that is tightly integrated with your SaaS application.

icon_analyzeAPPLICATION ANALYTICS – Ask your product managers to evaluate application-centric analytics tools like Mixpanel ($150-$2,000/mo) or Totango ($1,500-3,000/mo). Our organization has years of experience using Totango, as we have over 50% of our customers who use it, so also feel free to ask on this blog or contact us at This tool is primarily used by Customer Success , Product or Data Science teams.

SALEicon_segmentsS SUPPORT & ONBOARDING – Your application users are online, using your application, so should your onboarding tools. Use Dossier ($45-$250/mo) to automate the onboarding process, send timed in-app messages, and provide real-time support that is integrated with 25 SaaS applications including Salesforce CRM, Zendesk and Totango. This tool is primarily used by Pre-Sales, Sales Engineers, and Customer Success teams.


AUTOSEND EMAIL AUTOMATION  – Automate the email messages that you send to your application users. Yes, this flies in the face of our admonition not to use email, so either use an all-in-one tool that does both in-app and email onboarding like Dossier, or at least an email-only tool. There are many tools for sending drip campaign emails, from Autosend ($59-$399/mo), and SendGrid ($79-$399/mo) to Marketo ($1,395-$2,995/mo). These tools are mostly used by Marketing teams.

icon_integrateCRM WITH INTEGRATIONS – If you are a SaaS application company, you will be integrating your account information with other sales and billing tools. The best CRM product for your use is Salesforce ($300-$3,000/yr), particularly because it ties into so many of the other SaaS tools you will be using. Yes, there are a lot of new, modern CRM tools like RelateIQ (also from, but at this point I recommend Salesforce. This tool is used mostly by Sales teams.

If you use application-centric sales tools, then the benefits will roll in. You will accelerate sales because you are able to engage with all evaluators of your application, not just the person who signed up. You will increase retention, because the in-app tools help you foster an ongoing relationship with application users. And you will deliver innovation faster, because you will have a clearer understanding of what drives your application users. So drop your carefully crafted emails and incessant phone calls, and welcome to the world of application-centric selling.

Thor’s Hammer for SaaS Sales

Successful SaaS salespeople have a secret weapon, just like Thor had his hammer. At my previous SaaS company that we sold for $400 million this one principle carried us through the years of exhilaration and turmoil that any company that goes from startup to IPO will go through.

Picture this. You walk into a car dealer looking to buy a new hatchback. You test-drive the car and like the feel of the vehicle. The sales rep tells you everything in exhaustive detail about that car, and answers questions. You walk feeling good about the hatchback, but don’t make the purchase. Something isn’t right.

You walk over to a competitor’s showroom to look at other cars. While test driving one, you develop a great rapport with the sales rep who, through active listening and targeted questions, understood what you were really looking for. The sales rep recommends that you try a smaller SUV model. That evening you drive out of the second dealership in an SUV instead of a hatchback.

What changed your mind? Somewhere during your second experience, you realized that you could trust this sales rep, and hence the company, a lot more than the previous one. Your first impressions immediately tilted your preference.

Building customer trust is fundamental to quicker sales and higher revenue. It is just as important to have a customer believe in who they are buying from, as is the product in itself. When a customer feels personally invested in an organization or vendor, they are less likely to break away during the sales cycle or even after a sale.

Here are some methods that work for sales teams when the “trust” factor comes into play.


Ask any customer what their favorite topic of conversation is. Their secret answer is always – me. While a sales representative spends hours on preparing detailed explanations on every aspect of the product so they can provide the customer with all the information necessary for making a purchase, what a customer sometimes really wants is to see how this particular product will solve their one pressing problem or issue.

Asking the right questions, paying attention to the customer’s today’s burning problem and working with the customer to formulate a solution with the product in hand will really help your customer stop picturing the sales rep as – well, a sales rep.

What your customer needs is someone who will understand their challenge and help them get through it. They will instantly warm up to someone who wants to actually help versus someone with just a sales hat on.

Proactive Engagement

A sales rep probably has dozens (or more) of prospective clients he is selling to at any given point. Being proactive will give him the edge that sets his organization apart. A proactive sales person is organized, knows exactly what all his deal situations are. A proactive sales rep is thorough; he does his homework before and after his client meets to understand everything about the customer’s business and their challenges. A proactive sales rep is a self-critic and has foresight, loves to test his own product’s limits and reports any likely issues that could impact his deals. A proactive sales rep never lets a deal go to sleep. He ensures prospective clients don’t forget him easily, and he does this simply by keeping in touch, so even if a customer doesn’t have a requirement now, he is who the customer will first think of when there is a relevant need.


Nothing turns away a customer faster than watching a sales rep hide something that is obviously a glaring problem. Acknowledging an issue upfront takes away so many unwanted side effects that could surface from trying to pretend it didn’t happen. Whether a problem is in the product itself, or in the contract, or in the solution satisfying the customer’s need, being honest about one’s errors could have a positive impact on a sale, where a customer believes that this is an organization that is transparent and will not take them for a ride.

Most of the times, they just want to know what is going on and aren’t really looking at the issue as a show stopper, unless of course the sales rep blunders by being dishonest. An honest attitude will only reinforce a customer’s trust in the product and organization after a sale, when they see that this company does not tell one story before a deal and another soon afterwards.

Keep it real and keep things transparent for the customer!

Service Quality

It is just as important to retain customer trust as it is to earn it when they make the purchase. The relationships that are built during the sales process are sometimes the ones a customer wishes to fall back on even later. Ensure that the organization has a very forward support team that you can direct the customer to, a team that is not just looking at closing tickets quickly, but one that exhibits ownership and hand holds customers all the way to the solution.

Customers who learn to trust the organization with time not only become sticky and don’t leave easily, but they also become great referrals, thus leading to increased business and hence to the success of a company.

A sales rep who learns the customer’s real need through effective communication, who proactively tries to solve the customer’s problem with innovative ideas and recommendations, who stays transparent about every aspect of the product and the available solutions and who delivers exemplary service by always putting the customer first, can bring in more deals, and more often than not, these deals either turn into top end SUV purchases at the first sale or eventually become one with time.

The Thor Hammer for SaaS sales is the last letter in the word SaaS – “Service”. It’s simultaneously that obviously simple and amazingly hard for us all. I never forget, every day of our life at our company Dossier – which is the #1 onboarding software for application owners –  that we’re in the service industry first, and software company foremost. And that, dear reader, is what it means to be a Software-as-a-Service company.

From Zero to Connect in Sixty Seconds

At Dossier, our mission is that our SaaS client’s sales reps establish continuous, prompt interaction and engagement with their customers through our industry-standard, easy-to-use customer success software that helps application owners connect with application users. We’d be happy if you checked us out at


About Vik Chaudhary

Vik Chaudhary is the CEO of Dossier ( in San Francisco. To business professionals and teams, Dossier is an app for organizing communications with customers, no matter where it happens, with zero disruption to the ways you already communicate. Based in San Francisco, Dossier is helping business owners, business professionals and teams around the globe intelligently sync their customer communication channels and organize documents, tasks and more. Welcome to a new way to build better customer relationships and a better business. Sign up for a free account today at

Separation of Church (Web Site) and State (Email)

STOP using Gmail. I don’t mean, literally. But definitely stop using email addresses for your business. I mean, really. It’s like a grown man wearing shorts, you know, all the time. Ok, since most of you read this because I blasted this to all 618 Facebook friends and 3528 LinkedIn contacts (I hope that proves to you, ex-boss, that I spend way more time at work than fun), you’re probably already tech savvy and asking if it’s necessary for me to… gasp… write a blog about how to get your own custom email domain, like,

I’d rather be smelling flowers like the guy above than have to go through the ordeal of working with custom email addresses, Google Apps and Microsoft Office 365 again.

Truth is, if you’re a tech startup, you get that you need to have your own email address, i.e. an address like However, many (non-technology company) small business owners start with – and stay with – emails like My dad is a good example – he owns the best known Indian restaurant in the Baltics (to get there, start in Helsinki, Finland, take the ferry over to Tallinn, Estonia, where Skype was started, then drive what feels like hundreds of miles of flat terrain to Riga, Latvia, and then Vilnius, Lithuania). In fact, Nik Zennstrom and his Skype team would often eat at his Tallinn restaurant, and if only my dad had taken shares instead of Estonian kroons. The business is Sue’s Indian Raja, and has a website, but check out the email address – it’s a Gmail email. As it turns out, dad’s visiting us this week, and we’re going want him to change his email to

So that should be pretty easy, right? Wrong. It’s pretty difficult to do for your average business owner, or even her fledgling IT staff, which usually happens to be a high-school student recruited to keep things running for the tech-challenged owners. Getting a professional email setup is similar to setting up a business phone system – you could buy a home phone from Best Buy and put it in your office, but soon you will run up against its limitations and wish you had gotten a business phone. Need to have call forwarding when you travel outside the office? Send voicemail messages as email? You can’t do that with a home answering machine. Similarly, with email, you need to do it right to establish credibility with your customers and efficiency in your team.

So here’s how we did it at Dossier, our startup that’s on Day 21 today. We wanted our web site and our email to be hosted by two different service providers. Our website is hosted at Linode. Our email is hosted by Microsoft Office 365. I’ll provide step-by-step instructions on how you can do the same thing, so that you can send and receive email at a custom email address.

The next step for us was to separate church and state – our web site would be hosted by Linode, and our email would be hosted by Microsoft Office 365.

Set Up Web Hosting on Linode

This may be obvious, but if you haven’t already, you must register a domain name, e.g., GoDaddy makes it really easy, so I recommend getting started here. Then, you should sign up for a trial account with Google Apps for Business, or Microsoft Office 365. Next, you want to setup your web site to point to your web hosting provider. The web hosting provider can be GoDaddy, and that’s the easiest thing to do if you are non-technical. Since we’re techies, we decided to setup our web site on Linode, which I do not recommend for anyone who wants their next three evenings free. To tell GoDaddy to translate the address to fetch the content from Linode’s servers, we need to configure DNS name servers in GoDaddy.

  • Go to Godaddy and click on Log In on the right hand side of the page.Godaddy1
  • Right where it says “Hi, <your name>”, click on the down arrow.
  • Click on the Visit My Account button.
  • Click on the Launch button on the right hand side of Domains.
  • Click on your domain name and scroll down to the Name Servers section.
  • Click on Manage, and then enter Custom values as shown below.


Set Up Email on Microsoft Office 365

Microsoft Office 365 can manage your entire web site including email, but we didn’t try that. We explicitly wanted our web site hosting and our email hosting companies to be separate. For one, we didn’t want our web site to be hosted on Microsoft technologies like Sharepoint, preferring to use our own – this makes our technology choices more flexible. For example, if we decide to scale the ability of our web site to handle traffic, we could use cloud services like Amazon Web Services. Keeping our web and email hosting providers separate made sense for us, at this stage.

  • Log in to Microsoft Office 365.
  • Click on Admin and then on Domains.
  • Add a domain name, such as

Next, login to your web site hosting provider, Linode in our case, and go to the DNS Manager for your domain. Create MX, TXT and SRV records exactly as you see it in the examples below, except where it says “onboardify” replace it with your domain – e.g., if your web site is, then the domain would be “mysite”.

MX records


Once you make these changes, wait about 15 minutes or so. Sometimes, the process of DNS changes takes a little longer. If you have set up email addresses such as, test that emails sent from/to it are received/sent. With any luck, your brand new, custom, email domain should be working fine in Microsoft Office 365.

Microsoft Office 365 email addresses cost $6/mo, and a little less if you sign up for an annual subscription. One of the advantages of Microsoft Office 365 over Google Apps for Business is that with Microsoft, you can create shared mailboxes such as and, and you are not charged $6/mo extra for such mailboxes. These are extremely handy when you want your customers to email you at these corporate email addresses, but you want the mail to be received by a number of people.

If you are interested in having a similar set of instructions for setting up custom email in Google Apps for Business, let me know, and I would be happy to rustle up some instructions.

About Vik Chaudhary

Vik Chaudhary is the CEO of Dossier ( in San Francisco. To business professionals and teams, Dossier is an app for organizing communications with customers. In his spare time, Vik runs all site operations for Dossier, and recommends that startup founders don’t hire an IT Ops guy until Year 3.

Dossier is an app for organizing customer conversations, no matter where it happens, with zero disruption to the ways you already communicate. Based in San Francisco, Dossier is helping business owners, business professionals and teams around the globe intelligently sync their customer communication channels and organize documents, tasks and more. Welcome to a new way to build better customer relationships and a better business. Sign up for a free account today at

Mirror Mirror On The Wall, Who’s The Fastest Web Host Of All?

Every business needs a website fast website. If you’re like most small business website CEOs, you have outsourced the decision on how your website is hosted. “Ah, the tech guys at the agency I hired to build the website decide that, I don’t really spend time on stuff like that”. Oh, but you should. The infrastructure behind your website – i.e., the data center, power, computers, software, and people that make it possible for your website to run – can make your business hum online, or jitter uncontrollably.

The Web host – a company whose job it is to run your website software – provides a “hosting” service to you. Hosting is like dialtone – when you purchased phones for yourself and your employees, you probably had some say in whether it was AT&T or Verizon. You made the decision based on reliability, price and options like making conference calls. This article is about choosing a host that ensures that your website is F-A-S-T! According to Econsultancy, a market research firm that looks at digital marketing, 67% of consumers cite slow websites as the reason they abandon those sites. According to a New York Times article on website speed, “Remember when you were willing to wait a few seconds for a computer to respond to a click on a Web site or a tap on a keyboard? These days, even 400 milliseconds — literally the blink of an eye — is too long, as Google engineers have discovered. That barely perceptible delay causes people to search less.”

Keynote, a company that monitors the speed of websites using a cloud of computers and mobile phones, has tools to help you measure your website’s speed, and make the right decisions about hosting. Companies like Yottaa also provide a free service to help you keep an eye on your website, and Google engineers have built a free service called WebPageTest to help you measure your website speed. We used Keynote to test the speed of the exact same food website, hosted on two different Web hosting companies’ servers – Bluehost and Linode. Bluehost charges a paltry $6.99/mo to host your websites, and this cheap price means that your site shares the same computer as thousands of other sites. This means traffic to your site can affect other sites, or vice versa, causing frequent congestions. What this means is that your site begins to appear sluggish. To be fair to Bluehost, they have great customer service, and it is rare to have your site completely offline. Linode plans begin at $19.99/mo, and uses a more advanced technique called virtual private servers, essentially a “sandbox” that separates your websites from that of other websites running in the datacenter. We tested the exact same website – one that was written in HTML, JavaScript, PHP and uses Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP (what developers call the “LAMP stack”) by hosting them on Bluehost and Linode. Early results show a dramatic increase in website speed, as the graph from Keynote below shows. The top graph line shows that the website takes between 2-4 seconds to load when hosted on Bluehost, and between 1-2 seconds when hosted on Linode.

Bluehost vs Linode website measurements
Your website is significantly faster on Linode than Bluehost (source: Keynote Systems)

This was all the proof we needed to know that Linode was a much better choice for a small business website (one where you want to spend less than $100-200/mo in hosting costs) than Bluehost. Note, however, that Bluehost takes on much of the technical configuration issues, and their customer service is superb, which means that you will spend less on having your outsourced IT staffer debug technical problems. Linode essentially gives you an empty box, and you have to, as their tech support person said to me, “configure every little thing to make it work”. And if there’s a technical problem, you will need to get an IT person involved. For instance, this website’s order cart refused to function, and it took an entire day of tinkering and then posting on Linode’s community forum, before we were able to discover and fix the problem. Time is money, so be prepared to have a top technical person on your team, or available on call, if you host with Linode.

At the end of the day, though, you should make the decision based on who is the most reliable and fast Web hosting company, because your customers who visit your website are the ones that matter. Having a fast website makes a real difference to your business, as it improves the perception of your brand, makes visitors breeze through the pages, and causes them to do business with you, online or offline.  Choose the Web hosting company with the fastest site speed characteristics – this is dialtone for the Internet age. In a later update to this post, I hope to be able to compare many different hosting companies and give you some guidance on which one is the fastest Web host of them all. That’s for another time, but for now, Linode is a winner.

Test Your Website Using Cloud Testing From

Cloud Testing Your Website

If you run any business today, chances are that you have a website that helps you bring in customers. Creating a great experience for your website visitors – your customers – is both an art and science that you usually leave to the experts. Unless you are a trained web designer and programmer, you want to give the task of building your business’ website to people you hire. In this post, I highlight an excellent tool that gives you, the business manager, the ability to direct your website designers just so, so you can have them build a great website. This is a Cloud service called CrossBrowserTesting and it helps you understand how your website operates for users on computers, smartphones and tablets.

When you hire home construction experts, you need to hire or yourself play the role of the general contractor. The general contractor – in addition to finding the right professionals and overseeing the project – ultimately is the assessor of quality. The general contractor ensures that what’s being built works for the many people who will visit the home – you and your family who use it daily, your friends when they come to visit you briefly, or family who stay longer. Sometimes this simply means looking at the proposed design through the eyes of the people who will use the home – and making adjustments to make their experience better. In the kitchen, for instance, the general contractor might observe that not just adults use the amenities, but also kids who enter it to forage for snacks. For example, lowering the shelves in the kitchen just a little can make a big difference to their experience.

It is the same with your website – you can play the role of the general contractor to ensure that the site is being built so that its visitors have a great experience. When designing your website, a question you must ask your website designers is: will the site work acceptably for visitors using different web browsers, mobile phones, and tablets? Let me give you a real-world example. A local San Francisco foodery, Indian Bento, just redesigned its website after a year so that it was more usable on smartphones and a variety of different computers. When you look at the website before and after screenshots on a typical web browser, the results look pretty good:

The good news is that the Indian Bento website works well on most web browsers, or at least the popular browsers – Internet Explorer on Windows 7 PCs, in this case. However, the Internet Explorer, or IE, browser has a worldwide share of about 50%. The other half use browsers like Chrome, Firefox, or the browsers on the iPhone or popular smartphones. That means that half your website visitors may be arriving on one of the other browsers.

So how well does your site work on other popular browsers? For example, in the San Francisco Bay Area, Firefox is commonly used by the technology crowd, and around the world, the Google Chrome browser is rapidly gaining in popularity. Also, it should be no surprise that, with more people owning smartphones like the iPhone, Samsung, or even the latest Nokia phone, website visitors fire up the browser that’s on their mobile phone and visit your website. This is where CrossBrowserTesting comes in – it helps you understand the consistency of experience of users on popular browsers and mobile phones.

We tested the same website, above, to see how it works for users using a smartphone (an Android phone, not an iPhone, in this case), an iPad, and using a PC running Internet Explorer versions 6 and 7. Here are the abridged results from CrossBrowserTesting:

The same website on an Android phone, the Apple iPad, IE7, and IE6.

While the Indian Bento website looks good on an Android smartphone and on the iPad (the first two screenshots on the left), the site looks definitely inconsistent, even broken, on older Internet Explorer browsers (see the screenshots on the right). Those browsers are older versions of Internet Explorer – versions 6 and 7. The latest version of Internet Explorer is version 9, IE9, but large segments of the population are using older browsers like IE6 and IE7. One reason is that people are not necessarily upgrading their Windows PCs or laptops to the latest version of Windows, Windows 7, which is required if you want to use IE9. And of course, if you have visitors from parts of the country or world where computer replacement happens at a slower pace, older PCs, and therefore, older browsers, will proliferate.

Once you have determined that there’s a problem on a particular browser, your website designers can do a deep diagnostic. For example, they can fire up the IE6 browser on Windows XP running Service Pack 2, and see if they can replicate a problem. This will help your designers fix these problems, and ultimately result in a better experience for all users.

CrossBrowserTesting is a remarkably easy service for non-technical users. You can sign up for a plan that starts at $29.95/mo that allows you to test your website on dozens of browsers:

CrossBrowserTest tests websites on iPhone, Android, iPad, Windows and Mac browsers.

Not every business owner needs to have a monthly plan to test a website, so there are other options you can look into. Browsera has a free service and a $39 plan for 14 days, for instance, Mogotest is $35/mo, and is free. Use a service that fits your budget and skills – some of the services can be harder to use than others. And like me, if your time is money and better spent in other areas of your business, having a reliable, fast, and easy to use browser compatibility testing service like CrossBrowserTesting is priceless.

A good user experience with your website builds your business brand, and a bad experience can work against your brand goals. Your website must operate consistently and well for your customers on smartphones, Windows PCs and Mac computers. You can win crucial business if your website works for every one of your customers, and, conversely, if even that one experience on your website is bad, your competition is just a click away for your customers. At Dossier, we wholeheartedly recommend using CrossBrowserTesting to understand and optimize your users’ online experience across three screens – smartphones, Macs/PCs, and tablets.

Cash Flow Management In The Cloud With Indinero and Outright

Outright Financial Dashboard

In the early days of operating your business, you don’t need to worry too much about managing your cash flow. Soon, however, managing cash inflows, outflows, accounts receivables and payables becomes a herculean task. It’s tempting to file all receipts in a shoebox (or, in my case, stacks of shoeboxes and extra large ziplock bags), and then wait until quarterly or annual tax filing deadlines to reconcile them. Then, I would sit at the dining table, muttering about the tedium that lay before me, counting up and categorizing all receipts. The problem was, I had no real-time visibility into my business’ cash flow, customer spend, or vendor expenses. I needed to answer questions like – “Who are my most profitable customers?”, “How much is this customer likely to spend in the next 12 months?”, “Which customers have not bought from us lately?”, “What is the cost of goods of the business?”, and “How much cash am I generating every month?”

Bookkeeper or QuickBooks Software?

To answer these questions, a business owner or office manager typically needs accounting help, or lots of time spent wrestling a spreadsheet to the ground. As far as I knew, I had two good choices – hire a bookkeeper/accountant, or purchase Intuit QuickBooks software to manage the books by myself. Hiring a bookkeeper seemed appealing because it was hassle-free, but I had the feeling that the costs would add up over time – at anywhere from $25/hr to $75/hr in San Francisco, estimating 8 hours a month, would cost between $2500 and $7500 a year, not counting first time setup expenses, which could be just as much. While not a terribly large amount, I wanted to explore more cost-effective ways of solving the problem. Hiring a bookkeeper doesn’t allow business owners to get immediate answers to the questions previously posed.

The other option was buying QuickBooks software – the mainstay of accountants everywhere. However, Quickbooks was designed for accountants/bookkeepers, not business owners/managers. Moreover, traditional QuickBooks software runs on a single computer – a PC or a Mac. If you are sitting in a cafe, or using a different computer than the one where the data is stored, or in a hotel while on the road, you may not have access to that computer. And what if your computer got stolen, or, as it happened to me recently, fried completely because my kids accidentally poured water on the keyboard? Even after being diligent about backups, it could be days before you had a replacement computer with all the business’s financial data on it – and that’s if you’re lucky. And you’ll always worry that your entire business finances and accounts were now in the hands of some unsavory character.

Cash Flow Management Software in the Cloud

There is, fortunately, another option: the Cloud – always-on, available-everywhere, browser-accessible, online software to manage your cash flow. This is software that is designed for a business owner, not a finance type. It runs on any computer, wherever you are. The data is stored securely, always backed up, and cannot be easily stolen. I narrowed my search to four companies that deliver cash flow management software that is 100% Cloud software. Cloud software runs entirely in any major web browser of your choice (Internet Explorer, Safari, Chrome, and Firefox, for example), which means you can access your financial data from anywhere, even if you are on vacation and obsessed about how your business is doing. That’s not you, right? Right. Me neither.

The nominees for cash flow management software in the Cloud were: InDineroIntuit (QuickBooks Online), Kashoo, and Outright. These are a few of the companies trying to solve the problem of managing your business cash flow online, but I chose these either because I recognized their brand, because they appeared in Google search results for phrases like “cash flow software”, and had websites that were intuitively designed. The last criterion was important to my evaluation, because a company that has a well-designed website indicates that the company takes the online channel seriously, and it makes you more productive to navigate through the site information, e.g., if you want technical help or support.

Outright Financial Dashboard
Outright’s Dashboard Shows Your Business Cash Flow Snapshot

Outright emerged as the winner in my evaluation of cloud-based cash flow management software. Outright’s web application was fast, the product easy to learn, connecting to bank accounts and credit cards was both easy and accurate, technical support was excellent, and the resulting graphs and reports gave me rapid insights into my business cash flow, customer spend, and expenses.

A close second was InDinero, which in fact had a more intuitive and flexible user interface, with many of the same features as Outright. Business owners will prefer Outright because it is designed from the ground up to answer the questions that business owners/managers have – e.g., “Which customers are spending more or less over time”, whereas inDinero was designed from the bookkeeper’s perspective, e.g., “What does my income statement look like?”

Detailed Review of Outright and inDinero

I evaluated the cash-flow-in-the-Cloud software products on these capabilities:

Bank/Credit Card Account Sync. To use Outright effectively, it really helps if you already have bank accounts and credit card accounts from which you can easily download your transactions, e.g., from Wells Fargo/Citibank or American Express/Visa, though practically any bank/credit card today has these online sync capabilities to connect with products like Quicken. Outright connects to your online accounts with these financial services providers and others, and synchronizes your Outright register with your credit card/bank. The synchronization is very sophisticated and accurate – e.g. my American Express Gold card account has 5 different credit cards – three for business, and two for personal use. Outright was able to download all my transactions and allow me to exclude credit cards that were not used for business expenses. inDinero worked almost as well, but was not as robust in connecting to my Amex credit card account and sorting through the different cards. inDinero’s customer service suggested that I delete the Amex account I had created, and reimport the transactions – but this had no effect; it correctly read one card’s transactions accurately, but another card’s transactions were intermingled with the personal card, and this caused a problem. If you have a business account, say with American Express OPEN, with several corporate credit cards for yourself and employees, I would not recommend inDinero. On the other hand, if you have separate business credit card, not an account with multiple cards, such as a second Visa card that you use just for business, inDinero’s account sync features will work very well.

Transaction Register Management. Like with any software, it takes time in Outright to massage the data into a format that makes it useful. For example, your bank deposits might be imported as “Deposit #22546”, and you would manually need to change these to indicate that it’s a payment by a customer, e.g. “Acme Manufacturing”. Once you edit the name of a customer or vendor, Outright remembers this, so that, next time, it automatically does the renaming for you – a very useful feature. inDinero has a better interface for managing all your transactions – it has a great Filter view that allows you to only view transactions from one or more accounts. inDinero’s transaction register was well designed, and more modern than Outright, with a fast, snappy feel that promises to make you very productive.

Importing Data. In Outright, I should caution that importing financial data from a spreadsheet is tricky, and prone to errors if you are not careful, so be prepared for the pain you must go through to make your data useful. Some banks, like Wells Fargo, don’t allow websites like Outright to download more than 90 days of transactions; so it’s likely that you will need to go to your bank’s website, and manually download your older transactions to a spreadsheet, which you can then import into Outlook. In my tests, I made the error of importing the same spreadsheet more than once, resulting in many duplicate transactions. However, it was confusing in Outright to figure out how to delete recently imported transactions, and I ended up deleting legitimate transactions as well; this all took some time to figure out. inDinero‘s better transaction register makes it very easy to search for the transactions you just imported, and delete or edit them if you need to.

Business-Oriented Reports. In all of the evaluation factors, above, Outright and inDinero were mostly evenly matched. Outright has more robust account sync, while inDinero has better transaction register management, for instance – and in the end there was a tie. The tie-breaker went to Outright, for its excellent business-oriented reports. Outright has reports such as Best Customers that show the income from your top customers, sorted by revenue, and Biggest Vendors, which shows which vendors you spend the most money on. These reports really speak the language of business owners, and my wish is that Outright add more such reports, such as “Who are my most profitable customers?” and “Which customers haven’t bought from us in some time (and therefore, those we should call)?”. inDinero had perfectly good reports, but these answered standard accounting questions such as Income, Cash Balance, and Spending, but nothing that specifically answered the questions most business owners have about their customers’ spending, profitability, and recurring purchase patterns.

Price. All in all, Outright was an excellent business financial management application, and for $9.99/mo, a Web app that I recommend to small business owners or managers. You can try Outright by signing up for a 30-day trial. inDinero has a free version (FREE is a very powerful marketing message), and pricing begins at $19.95/mo for a full-featured version that allows you more than 3 months of transaction history. You can try inDinero by signing up for a free account.

For the other contenders – Intuit (QuickBooks Online) and Kashoo, let me explain why I do not yet recommend them over Outright or inDinero:

  • QuickBooks Online‘s web app made me feel like I was living in the 1970’s – it has a very outdated user interface that had not changed very much from the familiar QuickBooks software (that you install on a Windows or Mac computer). Though QuickBooks Online was more “web-ified” than it’s Windows/Mac-based versions, I realized that it would take me days to learn how to use the product. QuickBooks Online is clearly designed for a bookkeeper, but not your average business user who is not an accountant by training – and this is why it’s just not suited for most small business owners. You should be able to cost effectively understand your business’ cash flow without spending loads of time, or hiring accountants. As the newspapers say, Intuit did not return our calls for comments – and this itself tells you something about the company; it has grown so big that it’s management doesn’t make it a priority to help small businesses uses its products to its fullest.
  • Kashoo doesn’t yet allow you to connect to your bank accounts or credit cards, so it’s not yet a very useful cash management application for businesses. All businesses run on credit card transactions and bank checks, so Outright and InDinero had the right idea – to make you very productive by automatically importing these transactions from your financial services provider into your accounting books. Kashoo’s customer support team tells us that bank/credit card account syncing is coming in October 2011, so it’s great that they have anticipated a much-wanted feature.

For business cash management and accounting software that works brilliantly in the Cloud, Beta Program highly recommends both Outright and inDinero!